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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is currently director of BI Leadership Research, an education and research service run by TechTarget that provides objective, vendor neutral content to business intelligence (BI) professionals worldwide. Wayne’s consulting company, BI Leader Consulting, provides strategic planning, architectural reviews, internal workshops, and long-term mentoring to both user and vendor organizations. For many years, Wayne served as director of education and research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) where he oversaw the company’s content and training programs and chaired its BI Executive Summit. He can be reached by email at weckerson@techtarget.com.

Most of us want to use our working hours productively. We want to make a difference and contribute to the success of our organizations. Although we recognize the transformative aspect of business intelligence, sometimes our executives do not. When this happens, it is often difficult to feel motivated, and work becomes drudgery.

I normally counsel people in these circumstances to be patient; sooner or later, the organization's data delinquency will come home to roost, and it will stumble in the marketplace. The Board will bring in a new slate of executives who need to measure performance rigorously and want to enhance the organization's information infrastructure. If you have stayed the course, this is your time to shine.

But some times it doesn't pay to be stoic. You are too ambitious, your executives are too entrenched, your organization is too complacent, and better opportunities exist elsewhere. And when push comes to shove, you just can't take it anymore, personally, professionally, or emotionally. Then, it might be wise to seek greener pastures, and a corporate environment that possesses a data-driven, decision-making culture.

The following is a list of symptoms that might indicate that it is time to polish your resume.

  • Your BI/DW team is "invisible" to corporate executives until you make a mistake.
  • Executives make decisions based on analyst spreadsheets rather than data warehousing reports that contain the same information.
  • Executives continually approve the acquisition of new applications with embedded BI products that run counter to your established BI standards.
  • The BI/DW group never has the funds to hire enough people (or the right people) to stay ahead of project backlogs, reinforcing business perceptions that the BI team is slow and incompetent.
  • The BI/DW group doesn't have a manager or one who is knowledgeable about BI.
  • The BI/DW group Is viewed as another IT group whose members are interchangeable.
  • The project management office insists that the BI/DW team follow traditional software development lifecycle (SDLC) and project management methodologies.
  • ERP implementations take the lionshare of business attention and IT resources.
  • You are an order taker who delivers what the business requests rather than an advisor who helps the business understand what they need and then builds it.
  • During requirements sessions, users repeatedly say they "want all the data."
  • Users use the BI tools as glorified extraction mechanisms to dump data into a spreadsheet or desktop database.
  • Users still question the validity of data more than a year after you've delivered a new report.
  • The BI/DW team doesn't track usage or know the degree of user satisfaction with BI.

Ultimately, corporate culture, which is established by executives,will determine how effective you can be in your position. If you observe more than a few of the above characteristics in your organization, and your patience has worn thin, then it's time to find an organization with a data-driven, decision making culture that makes it possible for you to have a positive impact on the business.


Posted June 14, 2011 5:18 AM
Permalink | 6 Comments |

6 Comments

Wayne,

Good succinct list to help BI pros who might be in a difficult situation decide the likelihood of things getting better. I think many people will find it helpful.

There's a thread that runs through several of the bullets on the list that I think is worth exploring. There is alternative to BI pros throwing in the towel in a scenario that looks like this. Execs approve acquisition of BI products that run counter to established BI standards. They make decisions based on analyst spreadsheets rather than data warehousing reports that contain the same information. BI pros order takers rather than advisors who help business users understand what they need and then build it. And users use BI tools to extract data into a spreadsheet or desktop database.

It could be that in this scenario the enterprise standard BI tools(s) are traditional BI tools rather than Business Discovery platforms, and they provide limited self-service capabilities. They may offer little to users in the way of ease of use and a simple, hands-on experience. These tools may not enable users to explore data on their own, pursuing their own paths to insight. In organizations where this scenario exists, it might help elevate the profile of the BI organization (as well as their morale!) to consider a portfolio approach to BI. The report-based architecture of traditional BI might be working fine for some use cases. But for the executives who want input into the way data is presented to them, and users who want to play with data themselves to find patterns and insights, it might be worthwhile bringing a Business Discovery platform into the portfolio of IT-supported BI products.

My two cents.
Erica Driver, QlikTech

Wayne,

The one thing you don't mention is, how long do you "fight" for BI in an organization battling itself over deploying BI?

Other than that, I love this piece... spot on.

-Mark

Good comment Mark. I wrote the piece in a hurry. I just updated it to respond to your comment. Basically, it's time to look elsewhere when you just can't take it anymore and better opportunities exist that will appreciate what you can do for the organization.

Erica, you make some valid points. However,i was focusing more on corporate culture than technology. In my experience, it's always the culture (people and leaders) that ultimately determines the success or failure of a BI initiative.

Thanks Wayne, that's kind of what I figured in regards to there being no set time, but you personal threshold for "battle".

It's hard to walk away without feeling like you've failed, but sometimes you have to admit that some corporations and their entrenched cultures aren't ready for BI, yet.

That's a good point, Erica. I now talk about top-down BI (DW-driven, metrics-oriented dashboards and reports) where people simply consume/view the data that's given to them, and bottom-up BI where users can source and explore data in an ad hoc fashion. 80% of the time, 80% of the users (i.e., casual users) simply want to view metric performance and traditional tools should suffice. 80% of the time, the remaining 20% of users (i.e., power users) want to explore new data in an ad hoc fashion. Two different users, two different toolsets. Companies should standardize on top-down tools for metrics viewing and bottom-up tools for ad hoc exploration and give them to different user groups.

The problem arises when the casual users want to do ad hoc exploration, which happens 20% of the time. Top-down providers have offered semantic layers and mashboards, which require upfront IT involvement to put in place. These tools are good for super users, but not casual users. Bottom-up tools like QlikView are perfect for meeting this 20% need because they meld the best of bottom-up and top-down capabilities. And if you can truly migrate QV beyond a departmental tool, then it might finally crack the code of how to deliver both top-down and bottom-up capabilities in a single toolset. But typically, these are asymmetric capabilities - the more you standardize and scale, the less you can iterate and the more IT involvement you require. I'm eager to see how QV walks this tightrope!

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